Violence, for example, has now become a social disease en-culturated into the mind-set of many of our young. Brutality, with its deadly consequence, murder, seems to be the only resort available to too many of our youth today. Rape with a high degree of brutality is prevalent. It is often perpetrated by those who are known by and close to the victims; incest is widespread and it is enabled by the unwillingness of mothers and other close relatives to reveal this tragedy to the authorities. Tacit approval is also given in situations where mothers depend on the financial support of these child sexual molesters. Life, then, at all levels has become cheap and expendable for a price.
The image of ‘coward’ is another deadly stigma for our young males. This combined with their narcissistic adolescent characteristics makes them predisposed to brutality in its ugliest form in order to save face. This sort of behavior is further amplified by encouragement from and prodding by their female counterparts.
As a people we tend not to be pro-active, aware of and capable of anticipating consequences and thus being in a position to effectively prevent or deal with serious situations crossing our national borders. With an influx of near five million visitors annually, our moral and psychological stability has been put to an incredible test. As a community without strategies in place to disallow negative and destructive forces from taking root, we are in a dangerously vulnerable position.
It is crucial at this time to arm our young with the weaponry of mental and intellectual power, lifesaving skills to solve and resolve conflicts without resorting to physical violence and the brutality of homicide. Too many of them are at risk of becoming murder victims and we cannot afford to lose a single one of them. This problem is further exacerbate by the fact that seventy-five percent of our households are headed by a one parent and that parent is the mother. A systemic change is necessary to replace this societal fragmentation which contributes significantly to the fallout of our precious children. ‘The high calling of parenthood must be more adequately recognized, respected and honored by our society. Therein lies the future of our nation.’ So states the US National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, in 1989.
A recently released study by Princeton University tracking some 6,000 males aged 14-22 from 1979-93 concluded that young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families. It found that those boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of being incarcerated B even when other factors such as race, income, parent education, etc. held constant. Imagine what this extrapolates for the Bahamas.
Very often mothers, who are the sole providers for their children, cannot supply their basic needs. Consequently, their male off-springs get caught up in nefarious activities to supply their needs. Some young girls, as young as eleven years, prostitute themselves, even with the tacit approval of their mothers, in order to satisfy their material needs. Many of them cannot even attend school in proper uniform were it not for their male suppliers. Then, of course, no one is ignorant of what takes place upon their leaving school. The situation is perpetuated, only now they begin to bear children for these A good @ gentlemen. And the vicious cycle continues. They lose for they are never given a chance to win.
Why can’t we do something about this? Simple indifference! Why can’t the government do something about this obvious poverty which drives our children to start on a path of crime that will lead them to jail and probably death before the age of twenty? Lack of money, we hear and the resulting lack of jobs and program opportunities to enhance the quality of life for our young. But then what do we know? We know that presently, there are over two billion Bahamian dollars sitting in Bahamian banks!
Now there has to be a colossal degree of profiteering going on at the corporate level and elsewhere. These dollars are held by the hands of a few, representing the lion share of the wealth of this nation. This wealth has been accumulated, by and large, through the sweat and blood of the poor whose children are now destitute and dispossessed. This constitutes, in my mind, economic violence. Whether we believe it or not, the inequitable distribution of wealth and the inordinate amassing of wealth in this nation result in the poverty and distress of many.
Consequently, thousands of our young are unemployed, and many little children, and adults too, still trek to the public dump in Nassau daily in search of a morsel to eat. Without an equitable system of income tax, the government cannot get at these enormous deposits. They sit, therefore, stagnant (except for the amassing of interest), and so the frightening inequities continue. But there has to be a way to cause, to motivate or even to coerce the possessors of these inordinate riches to free up some part of them for the creation of jobs and meaningful programs for our youth.
Poverty, in its most deepest and most abject state, will be the heritage of our future generations unless we as adults assure everyone of our young men and women meaningful occupation when they exit the halls of our high schools. Without this assurance, we have failed them miserably and have set the stage for further, certain and guaranteed criminal activity. In their bereft condition, they will return to haunt us. Devoid of financial opportunities for further education and with the scarcity of jobs, they can so quickly lose that pristine grace of enthusiasm and motivation as they tread the beat of the unemployed and the dispossessed.
We believe, therefore, that an urgent and energetic attempt must be made at the earliest possible moment to reach and humanize this class of individuals in their seemingly hopeless spiritual and psychological conditions. Traditionally, the country has provided relatively well for the nation’s youth education through high school, even though many fall by the wayside both at the primary and secondary levels without any significant intervention.
At the end of high school, though, the vast majority of the nation’s young people are cast forth into a dismal and uncertain future. A very small percentage of them can afford to continue on into tertiary education. A few others find some means of employment while the many others are left literally abandoned at age sixteen to their own devices. This is not only socially reprehensible, but it is a moral tragedy to set our future citizens adrift at such an early age. It is criminal!
This unenlightened manner of dealing with the most valued resource of the nation, has caused much pain and misery over the past ten to fifteen years. There are those of us who have tried every means possible to get our government and communities to recognize and accept the responsibility for this dismal state of affairs.
A much greater sense of concern must be felt throughout the country. Without the concerted efforts of unselfishly dedicated individuals, the concern will remain at a very intangible level. Far too few of us are determined to bring about an enlightened revolution in the hearts and minds of our Bahamian people. Our youth are craving for this kind of attention and leadership.
We need to be eternally mindful of the poignant warning given by Marian Edelman when she writes: ‘Inattention to children by society poses a greater threat to our society, harmony and productivity that any external enemy.’ These are words to be posted prominently in view as we lead our youth along the way to adulthood Yes, they are the ‘ darlings’ of the nation, but they can so easily become the demons unless they are properly nurtured and cared for. Call them ‘darlings’ only when we have done everything in our power to assure that every child in our land becomes a proud, loved, cherished and care-for individual. When we have made certain he/she is securely set on the path of self-esteem, self-worth and productivity, then, and only then, claim them as our darlings. It is nothing short of criminal to believe that our responsibility for our children end at age sixteen! When the eighteen year old was charged a few years ago with the murder of the two tourist ladies, it was declared that he was ‘ too slow to understand the charges.’ Was he then the only criminal at work?
Around about the age of sixteen and into their nineteenth year, our young people make decisions which will set the course of their lives. This is the period they come to grips with some of the most difficult issues which face their generation, and they experience great pain and misery not knowing where and to whom to turn for answers. Many of them come from families broken by divorce, abandonment of fathers; they are wounded by a lack of love and affection. They no longer feel safe even in their own homes.
A large sector of our families suffer from a lack of parental authority or respect for that authority, giving our children, especially the young males a confusing mixture of independence and isolation. Consequently many of them resort to short-term escape mechanisms like drugs, alcohol and casual or promiscuous sex. In this abyss of instant gratification, they are blocked from answering the significant questions in their lives. This sea of darkness, we need to turn into an ocean of productive light and we are called to do so with tenderness,compassion and respectful intervention.
Some of us have a profound understanding of what it is to be a young person having worked with them for most of our lives. Even though wounded and scarred, many young people refuse to give up. An insatiable desire, natural contact with the divine as well as their established claim to the Kingdom of God, leave them poised to be spontaneously and naturally catapulted into the realms light and glory.
Like the Christ, we must walk alongside our children, sharing with them the meaning of life and how to concretely go about living it to its brightest and fullest. We know the light-some nature of their restless young hearts as they search for the true meaning of life. We see in them the joy of God’s creation and in them the divine expression is unmistakably refreshing. Pope John Paul II in speaking about this hope in the hearts of the young, states:
‘That hope has been confirmed and strengthened again and again. It has been the young people themselves who have taught me to have ever new and ever greater confidence... The longing present in every heart for a full and free life that is worthy of the human person is particularly strong in young people. Certainly false answers to this longing abound, and humanity is far from being a happy and harmonious family. But so many young people in all societies refuse to descend into selfishness and superficiality. They refuse to relinquish responsibility. That refusal is a beacon of hope.’
We have come to recognize that beneath the barrage of ‘youth problems,’ there is a story of hope and determination in the face of challenging conditions. Surprisingly, many of them are overcoming incredible odds and succeeding. We wish, therefore, to concentrate on positive models where success can be more easily perceived. This is the message so powerfully present in the words of John Paul, ’ ...The longing present in every heart for a full and free life that is worthy of the human person is particularly strong in young people.’
Our objective, therefore, is to help these young people become more self-aware, understand their emotions, their spiritual dimension and develop positive attitudes; help them by way of skill training to become self-reliant, productive and useful citizens of their communities; help them break the cycle of despair and anger, which leads to violence, crime, family breakdown, poverty and a general sense of hopelessness and to assist teenagers who are already parents to become positive role models for their children, and begin to develop the skills to better care for them.
Even if a small number of Bahamian merchants who possess ninety percent of the nation’s wealth, do not invest in the nation's youth, we must be determined to marshal other resources in order to awaken the conscience and the consciousness of our people. This is an urgent social and national health problem. This aberration of free floating violent behavior will result in the meaningless death of many more of our beloved children unless we act now and act courageously and sacrificially. ‘Fighting crime’ is a misnomer. Once an act labeled as criminal is committed, it can no longer be fought.
We must be pro-active, enabling creative and preventive strategies to be implemented that would disallow a criminal act from even being born. Our youth must be taught to build community and they will be less likely to destroy it.
We must be brave and courageous in the tasks which lie ahead as we elevate those in our charge to a new level of spiritual and psychological growth. We will bring a new dimension to the temporal order, mindful of the fact that Christ did pray for and promised ‘God’s Kingdom on Earth.’ We will beckon the little ones into our bosom, and imitating the Good Shepherd, we will tend our flock like a shepherd; gather the lambs into our arms, carry them close to our heart; and gently lead those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11). Our children will once again become inheritors of the Land of Promise, as we empower them to realize their divinity as Children of God. We are in charge; we are responsible.
As we constructively attempt to repair and improve the socio-cultural plight of our youth, we set as our goal to establish that type of environment about which we can proclaim with the Prophet Isaiah:
‘The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, and a little child shall lead them.’